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Mansfield Park | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Mansfield Park | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


What are Henry Crawford's motivations in Mansfield Park in influencing his uncle to arrange William Price's promotion and in informing Fanny Price of the news?

If Henry Crawford were completely deplorable, his motivations in helping William Price get a promotion could be described as wholly self-serving and manipulative. But Henry shows some signs of reform as he falls in love with Fanny Price; she seems to be a good influence on him. In addition, Henry has spent time riding, hunting, and talking with William, and genuinely admires him. He is doing a favor for a friend by sincerely recommending him to his uncle, and Henry's actions benefit William, a deserving young sailor. However, Henry's ultimate aim in helping William is to help himself. Fanny has already made her stance quite clear: she does not want to Henry to court her. She has implored him to leave her alone, and as a gentleman, he should do so. With Henry, even actions that seem to benefit others are, in fact, about him. In Chapter 30, for example, when he describes how he will make Fanny happy, he says, "it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it." His haste in bringing the news to Fanny and his close observation of her changing expressions as she reads it are about his pleasure. He sees and ignores her distress. In short, Henry's benevolent actions on William's behalf are manipulative. Because he assumes Fanny's refusal arises from her sense of unworthiness and modesty, he is willing to use her love for her brother to break down her resistance.

In Chapter 32 of Mansfield Park, why does Fanny Price's refusal to accept Henry Crawford's proposal create so deep a misunderstanding between her and Sir Thomas Bertram?

Unspoken assumptions and hidden truths underlie the profound misunderstanding between Sir Thomas Bertram and Fanny Price. Sir Thomas knows Fanny as a biddable, respectful young woman. He understands the importance of financial security in marriage, and he has been watching as Henry Crawford has courted Fanny properly and followed the rules by asking her guardian for permission to propose. Fanny has no other suitors, she is the right age to marry, and she would be marrying up. Of course, Sir Thomas can think of no reason for Fanny to refuse and is displeased by her decision. But Sir Thomas lacks critical information about Henry. Abroad when Henry behaved so badly with Maria Bertram, he does not know of Henry's role in the theatricals. All he has seen is Henry on his best behavior. Fanny, even though she has little reason to protect her cousins, who never loved her as they should, is loyal and kind. She refuses to betray Maria for her flirtatiousness or her disrespect toward James Rushworth; she keeps the jealous feud that developed between Julia and Maria to herself. Sir Thomas accuses Fanny of "scruples," of violating her own code of ethics. In fact, however, she upholds it even at great cost to herself. Is this virtue or mere timidity? Readers might point out that if Fanny had revealed the truth, the disaster with Maria's marriage might have been prevented.

In Chapters 32, 33, and 35 of Mansfield Park, how do other characters' opinions about Henry Crawford's proposal affect Fanny Price?

Fanny Price is a quiet observer and keeper of secrets. Those around her are quite the opposite. One character after another tells Fanny not what to think, or what they think, but what they are already sure Fanny thinks. How could she not, having been raised with the expectations inculcated in all young women at that time? Sir Thomas Bertram assumes Fanny rejects Henry Crawford's proposal out of surprise and becoming modesty. He is stunned when she declares the proposal "disagreeable to me" because, first, Henry has everything to commend him and, second, Mary Crawford and Fanny are close friends. He also takes for granted a willful defiance, though of course Fanny withholds the information Sir Thomas lacks to protect Maria and Julia Bertram. Henry, too, assumes Fanny's modesty and unpreparedness lead her to reject his proposal. He sets about "forcing her to love him," not knowing her hopeless love for Edmund Bertram. He, too, assumes Fanny and Mary love each other as sisters, when Fanny's feelings about Mary are clouded by her love for Edmund and by Mary's London views on marriage. Lady Bertram assumes Fanny is happy to be included in the club of pretty women who have caught men of wealth; Mrs. Norris, to no one's surprise, seethes jealously, while accusing Fanny of a love of secrecy and ungrateful willfulness. Edmund's assumptions cause Fanny the most pain. Not only does he share the others' assumptions about how Fanny regards Henry, her friendship with Mary, and her great good fortune in such a marriage, he also projects his desire onto Fanny to persuade Mary to settle for life as a clergyman's wife. The advice of these characters wears Fanny down, causes her pain, and makes her flee to her East room, to be followed even to that sanctuary. In part, Fanny's reticence is to blame for this treatment. She will not grant herself enough importance in the family circle to make her thoughts known. But the larger blame is with the other characters, who claim to have her interests at heart but are actually advancing their own.

In Chapter 34 of Mansfield Park, how does the emphasis on education develop the conflict surrounding Henry Crawford's proposal and Fanny Price's feelings for Edmund Bertram?

Chapter 34 slows the plot down somewhat while Fanny Price and Lady Bertram pass some quiet hours at their sewing, while Henry Crawford reads from Shakespeare's plays, to Edmund Bertram's approval. His reading is "capital" and pleases them all, even Fanny, who wishes she could ignore him but cannot. Henry praises Shakespeare's "thoughts and beauties," which have so permeated English language and literature that one hardly needs to read the plays to know him. Readers become aware of an odd contrast between reading lines from a play (an ennobling, praiseworthy activity) and acting out those lines (a suspect activity). When Henry acknowledges this contrast, Fanny blushes with shame, while Edmund credits her blush as pleasure. Then the two young men stand by the fireplace to discuss the need for better literacy in boys' education so they can read well when called upon. They discuss the beauties of the Anglican liturgy and the merits of a well-written sermon. Fanny listens happily as Edmund, university educated and now ordained, is speaking. Unfortunately, Henry mistakes her concern for Edmund's plans not to preach often as disapproval of him and presses himself on her, anxiously seeking pardon in embarrassingly familiar tones. All this Edmund observes, till he draws an incorrect conclusion: Henry's articulate, passionate speech is persuading Fanny to love him.

In Chapter 35 of Mansfield Park, why is the discussion between Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price one-sided, and how does it relate to recent events in Edmund's life?

As the chapter opens, Edmund Bertram decides not to bring up with Fanny Price the subject of Henry Crawford's proposal, but soon Sir Thomas Bertram persuades him to do so. Edmund finds Fanny walking in the garden and proceeds to speak at length, lecturing her and going on about Mary Crawford. At first, Fanny thinks Edmund supports her resistance to the proposal and relaxes more than she has "in days and days," but her comfort is short-lived. Edmund urges Fanny to prove herself a "grateful and tenderhearted woman" and even "the perfect model of a woman" by accepting Henry's proposal, and talks right over her objections. She claims she and Henry are "so totally unlike"; Edmund insists she is wrong, and the "dissimilarity is not so strong." When Fanny finally brings up Henry's inappropriate behavior with Maria Bertram, Edmund is "scarcely listening" as he launches into a sideways defense of Henry, and suggests that Fanny's womanly duty is to lovingly fix his flaws. Again, she demurs—this "office of high responsibility" is beyond her; and again, he criticizes her self-effacement. Edmund simply cannot stop telling Fanny how to feel and act. Soon his motivation is clear: If Fanny marries Henry, Edmund has a better chance of persuading Mary to give up her dreams of wealth and marry him. Edmund dominates the conversation because Fanny remains Fanny, timid and quiet, and listens to her cousin who believes he has right on his side. It may be his recent ordination causes Edmund to feel he now has authority over Fanny. He preaches his version of womanly action and feeling at length and then leads her into the house "with the kind authority of a privileged guardian."

In what ways is Sir Thomas Bertram's role as Fanny Price's surrogate parent in Chapters 2 and 32 of Mansfield Park successful and unsuccessful?

Sir Thomas Bertram tries to do what is best for Fanny Price, and later extends his benevolence not only to her brother William Price but to some of the other Price children as well. He is gracious and generous with his influence, as he should be, and he hopes Fanny will feel at home at Mansfield Park. Later in the novel, he is appalled that Mrs. Norris has forbidden a fire in Fanny's East room, and puts an end to such treatment. In these ways, he is successful. Fanny appreciates his actions, but her timid nature causes her to fear Sir Thomas, with his booming voice and large physical presence; and because he is not an "outwardly affectionate" man or directly involved in raising children, he merely intimidates Fanny—for almost the entire novel. Because he is away for long periods of time and must entrust his surrogacy to others less competent or with less noble motives, he is less successful at his task.

What does the disagreement between Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram in Chapter 37 of Mansfield Park reveal about Fanny Price's place in the family?

The sisters disagree about whether Fanny Price can be spared while she visits her Portsmouth family. Lady Bertram cannot imagine why Fanny would need to go when she is so needed at Mansfield Park. Sir Thomas Bertram persuades his wife, with gentle insistence, to make the "sacrifice" and let Fanny go; but in private, she remains opposed to Fanny's absence. Mrs. Norris also attempts to persuade Lady Bertram to her point of view, which is that Fanny won't be missed at all by anyone at Mansfield Park. In her usual inconsistent manner, Lady Bertram responds, "I dare say you are very right, but I am sure I shall miss her very much." The disagreement reveals how integral Fanny has become to the family at Mansfield Park, perhaps more central, and certainly dearer to Lady Bertram, than Mrs. Norris herself. Fanny's importance likely galls Mrs. Norris, who for years has tried to make herself indispensable to the household and who now finds herself somewhat displaced by the niece she brought into the family circle.

In Chapters 38 and 39 of Mansfield Park, what details reveal the sad state of housekeeping and family management in the Price household in Portsmouth?

Sir Thomas Bertram's "medicinal project" does not succeed in driving Fanny Price to accept Henry Crawford's proposal, but she does feel the contrast between the orderly comfort of Mansfield Park and the Prices' chaotic, messy home. A cascade of details overwhelms Fanny (and readers) to create the impression of the Prices' squalid and disorderly lives. Fanny is not greeted properly, or at all, on her arrival. A "trollopy-looking maid" opens the door and shouts at William Price instead. The household is in such an uproar over preparing for Sam's deployment that William has to bring Fanny's presence to his mother's attention. The siblings bicker, talk back to their mother, and complain. When a candle—a basic household supply—is needed, no one can find one. Rebecca, the incompetent, insubordinate servant, cannot get tea made and served in a timely manner. The younger boys are "ragged and dirty" and always noisy. The thin walls offer no escape from the "incessant noise" or private respite from the disorder. "Nobody was in their right place," the narrator sums up, and "nothing was done as it ought to be."

How does Fanny Price's presence affect the Price family, especially the children, in Chapters 39 and 40 of Mansfield Park, and how do her activities reflect her upbringing among the Bertrams?

Fanny Price has little impact on her parents, who regard her arrival and departure at best, placidly and at worst, indifferently. But Fanny finds ways to be useful to some of her siblings—and being useful makes Fanny happy. Immediately after her arrival, Fanny helps her brother Sam pack for deployment "by working early and late, with perseverance and great dispatch." In other words, the family would likely have failed without her assistance to send Sam off equipped and ready. Fanny also parts with some of her small funds, a gift from Sir Thomas Bertram, to put to rest Susan and Betsey's feud over the silver knife—a generous act that recognizes how little the sisters have to call their own. Most of all, Fanny sees Susan Price's potential and her need, so much like Fanny's own, to feel competent and appreciated in her family circle. Fanny's ability to influence the Price family for the better is the result of her years at Mansfield Park. The early, lonely days give her empathy for Susan, who feels out of place and unneeded in her family; the years of assisting Lady Bertram give her the skills to pass on to Susan. She was educated with Julia and Maria, under Miss Lee's tutelage in the East room, enabling her to teach Susan now. Even Mrs. Norris's harsher forms of discipline prepare Fanny to endure the privations of the Price household.

In Chapters 40 and 43 of Mansfield Park, what ambivalence about marriage does Mary Crawford express in her letters, and why?

Mary Crawford writes, ostensibly, to update Fanny Price on her cousins' doings in London. Julia Bertram looks well, she reports, but Maria Bertram will have all the praise when she hosts her first party at one of London's most stylish homes, courtesy of James Rushworth's vast wealth. Compared to lively, flirtatious Henry Crawford, Rushworth is a bore; but Mary thinks Maria should find compensation in being "the queen of the palace." Mary may feel a bit jealous or even harbor a touch of spite when she hopes Maria will be happy in her choice of wealth and social influence over a loving relationship with a compatible husband. As for Julia, John Yates is courting her, and Mary mildly disapproves because Yates's "rants" aren't worth his "rents." In other words, his unpleasant manners are not offset by wealth. In her later letter, Mary again presents examples of marriages in which she hopes wealth makes unhappiness more bearable. Mary seems to be working toward two purposes: to persuade Fanny that Henry offers both the pleasures and security of wealth and an amicable marriage, and to convince herself that happiness with a loving, compatible husband might be worth a little less luxury than what she has been brought up to expect.

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